Daniel Defoe's Rail Journey (2017, Sandstone Press Limited) 4 stars

Two pensioners travel the railways of the UK accompanied by Daniel Dafoe and other historical …

A surreal odyssey through modern Britain

4 stars

This book is sub-titled “a surreal odyssey through modern Britain” and that seems apt. On the surface it’s a record of how two retired Scots, the author and his friend John, rode every mile of all the railways in the mainland UK (and also on the Isle of Wight) but if that’s the book you’re looking for then this is not it. John is the railway nerd and it’s clear he planned the expedition and knows much about the railways, but of his knowledge you hear only passing references.

The author is on a rather different journey. For a start he engages with about 250 other passengers to discover their stories. That in itself would be interesting enough but there’s a surreal element overlaying this all.

For a start the two are accompanied throughout their journeys by Daniel Defoe, who keeps escaping from the pages of his book (and the author is clearly knows quite a lot of Defoe’s life and publications) but we’re also joined at various points by fictional characters from books and films and also real characters from history. Isambard Kingdom Brunel for example joins in on several occasions.

There’s also a general fantasy element too on top of these spirit passengers. So a description of something ordinary will suddenly lurch into fantasy.

All of this is very strange and I suspect you’ll either put it to one side in frustration after a couple of dozen pages or embrace its weirdness and find joy in it. I know I did.